In re Estate of Henry Tims, 2021-UP-281

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM:
Docket Number2021-UP-281
PartiesIn the Matter of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Henry Tims, Decedent, v. Michael Tims, individually and as Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Respondent, Samuel H. Tims, individually and as a Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Petitioner, And Deborah T. Krane, individually and as Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2018-001605
Decision Date21 July 2021

In the Matter of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Henry Tims, Decedent,

Samuel H. Tims, individually and as a Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Petitioner,
v.

Michael Tims, individually and as Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Respondent,

And Deborah T. Krane, individually and as Co-Personal Representative of the Estate of Harriet Kathleen Tims, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2018-001605

No. 2021-UP-281

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 21, 2021


THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

Heard April 13, 2021

Appeal From Beaufort County Carmen T. Mullen, Circuit Court Judge

Peter Brandt Shelbourne, of Shelbourne Law Firm, of Summerville, and Eric Matthew Campbell, of Trask & Howell, LLC, of Mount Pleasant, for Appellant.

Mills Lane Morrison, Jr., of The Law Offices of Darrell Thomas Johnson Jr., LLC, of Hardeeville, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:

In this estate dispute, Harriet Tims (Decedent) died intestate, having certain real property titled in her name. Decedent's three children, Samuel Tims, Respondent Michael Tims, and Appellant Deborah T. Krane, disagree on whether this property is an asset of the estate or a trust in favor of Respondent. Samuel filed a declaratory judgment action, later joined by Respondent, asking the court to determine the rights of the parties regarding the property. Appellant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the action was time barred under section 62-3-803 of the South Carolina Code (2014), otherwise known as the nonclaim statute. The circuit court ruled the nonclaim statute did not apply because the action was a dispute involving title to real property. On appeal, Appellant argues the circuit court erred by finding that (1) the action was not barred by the nonclaim statute; (2) the land exchange agreement (LEA) created a resulting trust for Respondent; and (3) Appellant was not entitled to a jury trial. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The property at issue is a 26.89 acre tract (the Property) located in Beaufort County that was originally acquired by Respondent in 1993 for $65, 000.[1]Respondent resided on the Property with his family and operated a deer processing business on the Property. At some point in 2012, the Property was in danger of foreclosure. Because Respondent was unable to refinance the Property in his own name, Decedent agreed to secure a loan to pay off the existing note.

On November 14, 2012, Respondent and Decedent entered into the LEA regarding the Property. The LEA stated in relevant part:

1. Son is the owner of the following land
2. Son is indebted to MCAS Beaufort [Federal Credit Union] in the amount of approximately $65, 000.00
3. Mom is going to secure financing in that amount from Palmetto State Bank to pay off MCAS
4. Son will deed the title of the property to Mom in order to have a first mortgage on the premises placed . . . in Mom's name.
5. Upon the sale of the premises, the amount of money owed to the bank at that time will be paid along with any taxes, insurance payments, interest or any other items paid for by Mom for the ownership, maintenance and upkeep of the property.
6. Upon the acquisition of the contract of sale of the premises, Mom agrees to deed the premises back to Son so that there will be no capital gains on the sale of the property as Son's primary residence.

The parties simultaneously executed a Deed to Real Estate, transferring the Property's title from Respondent to Decedent "in consideration of the sum of ONE and 00/100ths ($1.00)." The next day, Decedent executed a promissory note and mortgage on the Property for $65, 280.[2] Thereafter, Respondent continued to occupy the Property, operate his business on the Property, pay all of the mortgage loan payments, and pay expenses related to the Property. Approximately a year later, on November 15, 2013, Respondent and Decedent cosigned on a second loan to invest in Respondent's deer processing business.

On February 14, 2016, Decedent died with the Property still titled in her name. Decedent's three children, Samuel, Respondent, and Appellant, were appointed as co-personal representatives of her estate on March 4, 2016. On May 19, 2017, Samuel filed a summons and petition for declaratory relief with the Beaufort County Probate Court. On May 22, 2017, he amended his petition, asking the court to determine the intent of Decedent when she executed the LEA and enter a judgment declaring the rights of the parties involved in the action.[3] On May 30, 2017, Respondent joined Samuel's declaratory judgment action. On June 6, 2017, Appellant answered, asserting a counterclaim and cross-claim and demanding a jury trial. Additionally, Appellant requested to remove the action to the circuit court. On June 13, 2017, the probate court granted Appellant's motion to remove the action to the circuit court, while retaining exclusive jurisdiction over the administration of the estate and any other formal proceedings pending within the estate.

On September 5, 2017, Appellant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Samuel and Respondent "failed to timely file a claim with the estate and are time barred from asserting a claim against the estate based on contract or tort, or other grounds." Samuel and Respondent responded by filing their own respective motions for summary judgment.[4]

The hearing on the matter took place on October 9, 2017. On February 7, 2018, the circuit court issued its order denying Appellant's summary judgment motion and granting Respondent's motion for partial summary judgment, declaring the existence of a resulting trust, and striking Appellant's jury trial demand. The circuit court denied Appellant's motion for reconsideration as to the merits of the action but granted her request to amend its prior order by including additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. This appeal followed.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Did the circuit court err by finding the action was not barred by the nonclaim statute?

2. Did the circuit court err by finding the existence of a resulting trust in Respondent's favor?

3. Did the circuit court err by striking Appellant's request for a jury trial on her breach of fiduciary duty claim?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), SCRCP. "An appellate court reviews the granting of summary judgment under the same standard applied by the [circuit] court pursuant to Rule 56, SCRCP." In re Est. of Hover, 407 S.C. 194, 202, 754 S.E.2d 875, 879 (2014) (quoting Brockbank v. Best Cap. Corp., 341 S.C. 372, 379, 534 S.E.2d 688, 692 (2000)). Further, "'[q]uestions of statutory interpretation are questions of law, which [appellate courts] are free to decide without any deference to the court below.'" Id. (quoting Grier v. AMISUB of S.C., Inc., 397 S.C. 532, 535, 725 S.E.2d 693, 695 (2012)).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. NONCLAIM STATUTE

Appellant argues the circuit court erred by finding the action was not barred by the nonclaim statute. We disagree.

Section 62-3-803 of the South Carolina Code (2014) states in relevant part:

All claims against a decedent's estate which arose before the death of the decedent . . . founded on contract, tort, or other legal basis . . . are barred against the estate, the personal representative, the decedent's heirs and devisees, and nonprobate transferees of the decedent; unless presented within the earlier of the following:
(1) one year after the decedent's death; or
(2) the time provided by Section 62-3-801(b) for creditors who are given actual notice, and within the time provided in Section 62-3-801(a) for all creditors barred by publication.

(Emphasis added). Section 62-1-201(4) of the South Carolina Code (2014) states that "claims" in respect to estates of decedents and protected persons, "include[] liabilities of the decedent or protected person whether arising in contract, in tort, or otherwise, and liabilities of the estate which arise at or after the death of the decedent or after the appointment of a conservator, including funeral expenses and expenses of administration." (Emphasis added). However, section 62-1-201(4) explicitly excludes the following from the definition of claims: "estate or inheritance taxes, or demands or disputes regarding title of a decedent or protected person to specific assets alleged to be included in the estate." (Emphases added).

In its order denying Appellant's motion for summary judgment, the circuit court methodically explained why this...

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